Claire Gwaltney

Claire E. Gwaltney

The new Kentucky Academic Standards for Social Studies look very different from the old ones. Perhaps the most notable change is the new emphasis on Kentucky studies, a subject once relegated to 4th grade but now addressed in every K-12 classroom. This gives educators an opportunity to insert Kentucky studies into the national narrative and connect it to global events.

Some teachers, however, say they are concerned about being unfamiliar with this subject. Others are anxious about utilizing inquiry, a teaching technique that is very student-driven rather than teacher-led.

Modifications like these may give some teachers heartburn, but many museums – including those at the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS) – are prepared to help ease the anxiety with a variety of programs and resources adaptable to any grade. At KHS these include:

Online Resources: Our artifacts catalog is a treasure trove of images and information for more than 106,000 objects spanning hundreds of years of Kentucky history. A separate digital collection contains 56,000 documents, manuscripts, images, audio and video files.

This is the Kentucky Historical Society logo.The Civil War Governors of Kentucky database offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives of legislators and everyday citizens via correspondence to Kentucky governors during this tumultuous era. Finally, the Historical Markers Program and Explore KY History databases share site-specific stories from every Kentucky county.

All of these resources are easily searchable and free. KHS also will soon introduce tools connecting specific online resources to the new standards, helping educators bring Kentucky’s history to life.

Field Trips: One low admission fee to the Kentucky History Center and Museums in Frankfort gives access to three sites:

  • The Kentucky History Center features rotating temporary exhibits, a Hall of Governors, research library and a permanent exhibit filled with interactive displays that cover 12,000 years of Kentucky history — perfect for teachers and students seeking a broad overview of how Kentucky earned its place in today’s world.
  • The Old State Capitol is where students can step into the role of a legislator, arguing and voting on a real 19th century piece of legislation against an 1800s backdrop. This helps 4th- and 5th-graders learn about government and citizenship while fulfilling both KRS 158.6450 and KRS 158.141. An experience meeting civics requirements for middle and high school students is in development.
  • The Kentucky Military History Museum examines the Commonwealth’s rich military history, told through personal stories and artifacts. A visit can help meet the criteria for Veterans Day observances outlined in KRS 158.075.

National History Day in Kentucky (NHDKy): National History Day in Kentucky has long served as a vehicle for student-driven, project-based learning where students choose a historical topic and how they want to illustrate it. Students identify questions they want to ask and answer, locate primary and secondary sources to inform their thinking and reach their own conclusions, citing specific claims and taking into account multiple views – the same skills used in the KAS for Social Studies inquiry practices. In addition, NHDKy gives students a platform to present their findings at the regional, state and national levels.


A student examines an artifact during a History smArts classroom lesson.

A student examines an artifact during a History smArts classroom lesson. This in-classroom program features arts-infused, hands-on-history lessons based on Kentucky topics.
Submitted photo courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society

History smArts: This in-classroom program features arts-infused, hands-on-history lessons based on Kentucky topics. History smArts enhances students’ visual literacy, historical literacy and critical thinking. The program perfectly aligns with the inquiry practices of questioning, investigating, using evidence and communicating conclusions, which are present in every grade level of the new standards.

Traveling Trunks: Traveling Trunks place Kentucky into the larger context of U.S. and world history through artifacts and lessons based on Kentucky history. Each trunk comes with five to eight days’ worth of lesson plans, primary source documents and artifacts that promote inquiry skills and help students make connections between the past and present. 

Professional Learning: KHS offers multiple learning opportunities for K-12 teachers. From single-day workshops presented by our educational organization partners to our signature multi-day Kentucky History Education Conference, KHS always has an opportunity for teachers to learn from experts and each other. KHS staff also provides educator workshops in your school or district upon request.

Similar opportunities to those above are available at museums statewide. Staff at many, including at KHS, have been closely watching the development of the new social studies standards. While KHS already offers programs aligned with the new standards and has more under development, we rely on you, practicing teachers, to let us know your changing needs.

Feel free to contact me at any time – whether you need a single primary source document to help demonstrate a concept or you want to brainstorm ideas. We look forward to working with you!


Claire E. Gwaltney is the teacher programs manager at the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort. She has been a museum educator for more than six years and currently focuses on connecting K-12 teachers with social studies resources throughout Kentucky.